In a glorious exploration of the comics medium with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Flash Gordon, Chris Ware, and Moebius, a lone astronaut leaves a world ravaged by nuclear war in search of life. What she finds is beyond all explanation.
Hedra, a one-shot comic by Jesse Lonergan recently republished by Image, follows an astronaut as she searches the galaxy for signs of life after the Earth is decimated by nuclear war. All of the comic’s fifty-some pages are visually gripping, poignant, and silent. While “silent comics” (aka those devoid of text) aren’t nonexistent – the graphic novel Space Bear was another silent sci-fi that hit shelves in July – they certainly aren’t the norm. Silent comics give comic artists a way to flex their abilities as storytellers, and to show audiences that a picture can unquestionably be worth one thousand words. Even if this were a larger genre, it wouldn’t take away what a beautiful book Hedra is.
Lonergan’s artistic style in Hedra is unapologetically diagrammatic — mathematical and exacting. Hedra’s layouts aren’t traditional, frequently relying on concentric circles and rows of squares in combination with more industry-standard rectangular panels. This layout, in relation to massive nightscapes, creates the feeling of reading star charts and using them to plot one’s course. Even white boundaries between panels, which normally act as a sort of “pause” between images, are at times part of the image themselves as the movement of a bomb or spaceship through the dark blue void of space. Hedra‘s cover is rendered in the same style and acts as a satisfying taste of what’s to come. While simpler, it’s still striking.
Almost every page of Hedra could easily be printed and treated as a poster or fine art print. It is a book which is incredibly pleasing to the eye at the page level, even when isolated from its narrative sequence or story.
That said, shapes – more specifically polyhedra (three-dimensional shapes with flat polygonal faces) – also play a significant, almost metaphysical, role within the comic. This theme feels easy to associate with the medieval astrological concept of the “music of the spheres” and the astronomer Johannes Kepler’s Harmonices Mundi (which discusses polyhedra and astronomy as they relate to that concept). For Hedra, polyhedra become part of the way one finds their place in the universe and finds hope for a new world.
Hedra’s core feels fundamentally retrofuturistic, both in the aesthetics of things like spaceship and spacesuit shapes, but in its focus on nuclear apocalypse, and its optimism towards space travel. It’s a playful book with a Gulliver-vs-the-Lilliputians moment and at moments Hedra is filled with a sense of wonder.
Hedra’s emotional core feels ballsy, especially in a time when the Doomsday Clock is set to one hundred seconds to midnight and the coronavirus pandemic is sweeping the globe. Lonergan’s narrative doesn’t shy away from the possibility of a reality where the human race faces catastrophe. Hedra takes one of the most “what if’s” and instead of offering the optimistic “it will never come to that” pulls from annihilation’s ashes a forceful “and then.” And then, life finds a way. And then, we find a way forward. And then. With this rarer breed of optimism, Hedra becomes a story about seeking (and finding) rebirth and renewal in a world where that seems impossible.
Hedra is a beautifully rendered, retrofuturistic tale that reminds readers that there is always hope even in the grimmest of circumstances.
Hedra (One-Off): It’s The End of the World (And I Feel Fine)
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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